Through JUNE 8, 2014
Institute for the Study of the Ancient
World at New York University
New York, New York
It was a chance discovery that reshaped our understanding of the Chalcolithic period. In 1961, archaeologist Pessah Bar-Adon was exploring a diffcult-to-access cave near the Dead Sea and noticed something wedged in a crevice. Removing the bundle—wrapped carefully in a straw mat—he discovered a hoard of more than 400 bronze, copper, ivory and stone objects from the Chalcolithic period, including crowns, scepters and mace heads.
The fine craftsmanship and intricate details of these objects— called the Nahal Mishmar hoard—testify to a mastery of metalworking: The Chalcolithic craftsman who created these treasures knew well how to manipulate copper and bronze, as can be seen from one of the copper crowns from the collection that boasts a series of architectural ornaments, horns and vultures affixed to its top (above).
More than 150 objects—from the Nahal Mishmar hoard as well as from the Great Burial Cave at Peqi’in in northern Israel—are on display in Masters of Fire: Copper Age Art from Israel at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (ISAW).
Also called the Copper Age, the Chalcolithic period lasted in ancient Israel from 4500 to 3300 B.C.E. In addition to gaining a mastery of metalworking, people began experimenting with other products during this period, such as leather, ceramics and textiles. The ossuaries (boxes that held human bones) uncovered at the Great Burial Cave at Peqi’in boast unique decoration—some resembling houses, others displaying human features, replete with eyes, gaping mouths and protruding noses (left).*
The Chalcolithic period was an age of innovation that left its marks on the following era—the Bronze Age.